PORTSMOUTH, New Hampshire—The night before the New Hampshire primary, Jackie Caron arrived early at a downtown Unitarian church to see Elizabeth Warren give one last stump speech in the state. Caron has been volunteering for the campaign—the first time she’s done so in her life—and described herself as “a crazy Warren fan.” She wore a T-shirt with an image of the Massachusetts senator’s profile and the words “I AM NOT AFRAID.” But Caron herself was in a more anxious mood. “I’m worried,” she said. “I’m very worried.”
That’s a position many Warren supporters find themselves in as polls open on Tuesday. Warren, who led polls in the state as recently as November, now appears to be locked in a battle for third place with a surging Amy Klobuchar and a struggling Joe Biden. Warren finished third in the Iowa caucuses last week, 8 points behind Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders, who have since been trading barbs and largely ignoring their other rivals. Polls suggest Sanders will perform strongly in New Hampshire, too, where he trounced Hillary Clinton in 2016. Pundits sometimes attribute Sanders’ strength here to the fact that he is a senator of a neighboring state. But Warren is, too, and a disappointing finish here would clearly be a difficult blow.
Marcus Courtney, who flew into New Hampshire from Seattle last week to volunteer for Warren, said that Warren is “one of the top two” for many undecided voters he has spoken with in the state. He framed Warren’s third-place finish in Iowa as a victory: Sanders had been campaigning there for years and still failed to lift turnout, he pointed out, and meanwhile Warren outperformed a former vice president. Klobuchar may have momentum, but she doesn’t have the money or the organization to sustain it, Courtney added. But he acknowledged that Tuesday would be critical for his candidate. “She has to do very well in New Hampshire,” he said, quickly adding a note of optimism: “I think she’s going to rebound here.”
Speaking to supporters at churches and theaters and school gyms across New Hampshire, Warren herself betrays no sense of anxiety. That may be in part because voters here are anxious enough, and skittish about a race that has so far failed to produce a clear front-runner, let alone a front-runner who can defeat the president in November.
Bouncing across the stage in Portsmouth, Warren played the happy warrior. “I’m in this fight, and I plan to win it!” she told the crowd. “Fighting back is an act of patriotism.” When the battery in her microphone died, she quipped convincingly that she herself still had plenty of energy. She drew boisterous applause for what has become a long list of catchphrases: “Big structural change,” “I’ve got a plan for that,” any mention of selfies, “Nevertheless, she persisted.” When Warren announced that her son was in the audience, the crowd politely clapped. When she added that her golden retriever, Bailey, was also there—and available for selfies—they erupted into raucous whoops. A few clusters of people filed out early, but there was no premature mass exodus like the one the New York Times observed a few days earlier in Concord.
In a state where voters pride themselves on being skeptical arbiters of a sacred process, Warren still attracts a lot of affection and tenderness. A former speaker of the New Hampshire House of Representatives, Terie Norelli, introduced Warren on stage Monday night as “our girl.” During the Q&A, one woman gushed, “I love you!” and another said she’d brought a PowerPoint she hoped the senator could read.
But even the optimists were looking ahead to the next day’s results with a tinge of wariness. “I’ve been waiting for this moment for months and months,” said Carleigh Beriont, wearing a rainbow-motif Warren shirt and juggling her 18-month-old, Siralina. Beriont and her family have been volunteering for the Warren campaign long enough that Siralina has had time to grow out of a Warren onesie and into a proper Warren T-shirt (“Running for president: That’s what girls do”). The couple said that as they knock on doors, most people they talk to name Warren as at least their No. 2 choice. They view that as good news. Beriont’s hope for Tuesday is that New Hampshire voters “aren’t afraid to choose the person they love.” “Be brave!” her husband, Eric Schildge, chimed in.
Twelve miles northwest, 7,500 Sanders supporters packed into an arena for a rowdy rally with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the Strokes. In Manchester, 11,000 people were cheering for President Donald Trump, who mocked small Democratic events—“One candidate today had 104 people”—and boasted of his own crowd’s enthusiasm. Klobuchar was at the American Legion in Rochester, Biden at a Greek Orthodox cathedral, Andrew Yang at a music hall. And back in the church in Portsmouth, Warren’s New Hampshire supporters were surging forward for one last selfie line.